A return to European tribalism?

May 23, 2012

Robert L. Price

Editor's Note: Worldview contributor Robert L. Price was at this weekend's NATO summit and will blog throughout the week on the summit and sustainability issues. Here, Price observes a new form of European tribalism that may accelerate the paradigm shift of geopolitical hegemony from the West to the East:

What exists to halt the disintegration of the European Union other than NATO and U.S. patronage?

As the EU Summit commences Wednesday in Brussels, two of Europe’s economic hegemons, France and Germany, did not have their traditional mini-summit ahead of the big meeting. New French President Francois Hollande instead chose to meet with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in Paris. But if the European Union is to have a future, its mission must look beyond “Smart Defense” and a “Missile Shield” and be an organization that unifies its members.

European history was once described to me as “one tribal region battling another tribal region.” But there was a respite once: the economic expansion in the Americas, the trans-Atlantic slave trade and colonial unification. This respite unified tribal Europe and sent old world battles to be fought abroad. But in today’s post-colonial world, there is no frontier and Europe may be heading back to the tribalism of its past.

Trends indicate a Europe and America in economic decline. By contrast, Europe’s old colonies –  Africa and Asia – are slowly realizing the wealth of their human capital and natural resources. While these former colonies rise, the European Union has become a contradiction in terms. It can’t agree on its boundaries, it can’t agree on its members and it won’t even pay for its own defense.

There may be cracks in the wall. In an impassioned plea before the EU Parliament earlier this month, British representative Nigel Farage compared the EU to the Titanic hitting the iceberg. He warned of mass civil unrest, revolution and the re-emergence of Nazism. Farage fears economic disaster could be imminent unless Europe abandons integration. Nigel, a known Euro-skeptic, has been accused of being alarmist. But this time, his comments found resonance with common citizens and became viral on the web. The most iconic moment of his speech came as Farage pointed to the EU’s blue flag and said, "I owe no allegiance to that flag, and nor do most of the people in Europe either."

Greece’s neo-fascist party won seven to eight percent of the vote in recent elections and the country can’t seem to form a new coalition government. Neo-fascists and left-wing parties want Greece to follow the British example and return to its sovereign currency, the Drachma. Governments in Spain and other neighbors near economic collapse hear increased cries for a return to sovereign currency. Most troubling is a parallel trend; neo-tribalism fed by increased anti-immigrant fervor.

Britain’s neighbors accused it of “tribalism” when the country decided to not abandon the British Pound for the Euro. If Europe doesn’t get its house in order, the continent will return to tribalism. Past European tribalism was based on human and natural exploitation. The next time around, we don’t know.

Robert L. Price is an architect and interior designer based in Shanghai, China. He is Worldview's arts and architecture contributor and a Global Cities co-contributor. Price also serves as Senior Associate and Technical Director for Asia at Gensler, a global design firm.